If you ask me, the notion that being a pastor’s wife is some big fat deal often strays into very self-absorbed territory.”
–Anonymous pastor’s wife
Friday afternoon I kissed my family goodbye and drove off through beautiful eastern and middle Tennessee to Fall Creek Falls State Park for an overnight pastor’s wives retreat. This is the first retreat for wives held in our district since 1992 (at which time I was not only not a pastor’s wife, but also in high school and not even thinking about ever being a pastor’s wife), and I was excited not only to connect with other pastor’s wives for the first time, but to see my lovely friend Katie, who was our guest speaker for the weekend. Oh, and I absolutely love Fall Creek Falls. I went out with Derek two years ago for the pastor’s conference (at which there were maybe 2 other wives), and it’s an amazing place.
Here’s what I learned in that whirlwind of a 24 hours.
1. It’s nice to be around people who get it.
My friend Christine once said that Derek and I “get it,” and by “get it,” she meant that we have the same values, the same worldview, the same way of looking at and interpreting and acting upon things. Being with these ladies, these other pastor’s wives from around the district, I was struck by being surrounded by people who “get it”–in this case, the “it” being figuring out how to best support their husbands in ministry while carving a place for their own unique talents and skills to serve in the church, all without accidentally crossing the line one way or another, from overbearing to underinterested, or even downright resentful.
We had young wives and wives with new babies and wives new to the ministry and wives with so many years’ experience they’d seen, heard and done it all. We had lonely wives and content wives and widows wondering where their place was now, whether “pastor’s wife” was still an identity they could claim. We had wives with challenging jobs, retired wives, mothers with the privilege of staying home to raise babies. And all of us were thrilled to be there, and all of us “get it.”
2. It’s nice to be able to open up and share with a group of your peers whom you trust.
In business, mastermind groups are all the rage: a group of peers in complementary businesses who give each other valuable advice for handling difficult issues. On our retreat, Katie had us all crying within the first five minutes–the good kind of crying, due to her combination of sharing her own story, her beautiful singing, and the incredible way she immediately tapped into all the hurts and troubles and long-buried burdens we all carry around with us. It was easy, after that, to talk candidly about our own hurts and dreams and pains and joys, some about the ministry, and some not.
The three sessions Katie led began with Caring for Each Other, a small group discussion about how we can and do care for others in the church. It was approximately thirty seconds into this session that everyone was surreptitiously wiping tears from their cheeks and sniffing, and it’s safe to say that once Katie opened up to us, we felt able to open up to each other. This first session was the hardest for me, as it brought up things I’d long buried away in my heart and not thought to examine in the light ever again. But the context and the care of my lovely new friends and sisters in Christ was a soothing balm.
We opened the next morning with devotions led by District President Dr. Paavola. We all loved his message on Mary and Martha. I think there’s a little Mary and a little Martha in all of us, and for me at least, it’s good to tamp down my German guilt of being Mary when it’s a good time to be Mary.
Second with Katie was Caring for Your Husband, in which we read sections of the Table of Duties in Luther’s Catechism on what wives owe their husbands, and on What the Hearers Owe Their Pastor. I think it was surprising for many of us to think about ourselves as parishioners, who owe our husbands as their pastor respect, regard, and submission to authority. I also questioned Derek, lawyer-style, while walking on the Greenway today to make sure I was caring for him physically, spiritually, and emotionally. In some ways I put this as a priority–mainly I show my love through Acts of Service, to channel the Love Languages phrasing. In other ways I know I’m oblivious, overwhelmed by my own pressures and to-do list and agenda.
Session three was Caring for Myself, in which Katie flipped the Oprah-esque trope on its head and we went through the Ten Commandments and the Lord’s Prayer line by line to discover that God takes care of us, through other people, and there is not in fact a commandment to have a spa day or take time for oneself, as the modern culture tells us. Of course, we were on a retreat at the time, but as Derek said this morning in Bible study, regarding self-improvement, “You can’t improve yourself out of the fall.” And that’s the point.
In some ways our sessions and discussions were like ripping off a very painful bandaid and then realizing that the hurt isn’t so bad; it’s temporary, just like our life here on earth, and the real reward is in heaven. In other ways, Katie’s words and the group discussions were just painful. Bittersweet. Because there are things we just can’t solve here, things we have to live with and give over to the Lord and to our fellow Christians who can share our burdens. But it felt so good to be with people who get it.
Katie is an incredible speaker and group leader. She has the talent (which every pastor’s wife should have, but I unfortunately sorely lack) of remembering names and using them to make people feel known and special. The talent of connecting–genuinely–with seventeen women, even when she has a new fiction book due and should be cloistered at home pounding out chapters. The talent of sharing Christ and his forgiveness with people who are hurting. The talent of being vulnerable and of creating a safe place for us all to share.
The retreat filled my well. I came home knowing I could face anything again with the support of my new friends, my Pew Sisters (the name of the retreat and one of Katie’s books) and sisters in Christ. I’m so grateful to Pat, the district president’s wife, for organizing this special event for us.
3. It’s nice to be in God’s creation.
A day in the Park calmed my soul after a week of sickness, a week of panicky catch-up, and a hurried late start to the retreat, during which I ran into terrible traffic and the introvert in me seriously considered turning around and coming straight home. But the drive out was gorgeous in this bright spring, and turning into the Park entrance, I knew I’d done the right thing in persevering. There’s something about that place where you can just be, a place to think and to put things in perspective and soak up the sunlight and breathe cool crisp air and marvel at spring, anew, again. A place to let go of work pressures and the grittiness of city and suburban life, to let the right side of the brain take over and simply enjoy God’s creation.
All of this said, my introversion was screaming for mercy after 24+ hours straight with people. I drove directly from the retreat to a foyer group, a small-group dinner party hosted by members of our church. That also was an incredibly fun evening, but by the time we got home and got the kids tucked into bed, I felt so coiled up inside I thought I’d never fall asleep. But I did, and what a sweet rest it was, the rest of my own bed next to my beloved husband with my children sleeping soundly down the hall. It was the rest of contentment, the rest of renewal. The rest of knowing my place, where I belong, and most importantly, that I do belong.